Joe Nolan's 10th goal of the season was his most important yet as his stunning volley from 20 yards out gave Shrewsbury Town a 1-0 victory over Charlton Athletic in the first leg of their League One playoff semifinal at The Valley.
The midfielder's wonder strike ten minutes from time gives third place Shrews a critical away goal as the two teams head for the second leg at the Montgomery Waters Meadow in Shropshire on Sunday.
Both teams go close in goalless first half
The hosts were on the front foot within the opening five minutes as Josh Magennis sent a header wide and Jake Forster-Caskey forced a fine fingertip save from Town keeper Dean Henderson. When the ball bounced kindly for Nicky Ajose, the striker ambitiously shot from 25 yards but his effort was well off the mark despite solid contact.
Shrews came to life in the 17th minute. Bryn Morris' shot was well saved by Addicks keeper Ben Amos and he made another fine save on the resulting corner from Carlton Morris' header. The visitors appealed for a penalty were denied despite Charlton captain Jason Pearce appearing to play the ball with his arm.
The visitors were showing their quality and Shaun Whalley then played in the ever-dangerous Morris from the right, and from 20 yards he curled towards the far left post, where the diving Amos again did well to parry wide.
"I think we started the better side and created a good few chances in the first 20 minutes, and if we take one of them we go on and win the game comfortably I think", commented Addicks caretaker boss Lee Bowyer.
"They weathered the storm, we took too many touches at times and created our own problems".
Nolan breaks deadlock ten minutes from time
It was midway through the second half when Shrewsbury enjoyed another good spell in which they almost scored. Amos was again under fire, punching clear from Whalley's corner.
Again Whalley was involved, pulling back to the unmarked Nolan, and his curling shot crept just wide of the left post.
Charlton again responded, this time Forster-Caskey curled a free-kick straight at Henderson and Ben Reeves then connected well with Ajose's lay-off before watching his rising shot clear the crossbar.
The game appeared to be headed for a draw until Nolan struck in the 80th minute.
Following a promising build-up, substitute Stefan Payne teed him up from 25 yards and he made no mistake, blasting past Amos and off of the underside of the crossbar.
"It was a good finish and I was happy to see it go in the back of the net', he would say after the game. "We’re not going to get too ahead of ourselves. It's a positive result to come and get the win, but it's only half time."
Captain Mat Sadler praised Nolan, stating: "Jon's done that all season, he's got a knack of scoring good goals".
The Addicks had one final spell to rescue the match, but Henderson again saved Magennis header in stoppage time, from another Forster-Caskey free-kick to preserve a priceless road win, moving them closer to Wembley and the final.
Bowyer still hopeful of reversal of fortune
The Charlton boss is still remaining positive, stating: "we've got 90 minutes to score two and keep a clean sheet, so is it possible? For sure it's possible. Is the game over? No, not by a long way."
Shrews boss Paul Hurst admitted:"Charlton have got more than anybody, individual players, on the bench or starting, who can produce a bit of magic out of anything. Any team equipped like that is a dangerous one.
"The boring cliche is that it's only half-time. We do have a slight advantage but I'm not getting carried away. "
Sadler also cautioned: "it’s very much half-time in the tie, we wanted to make sure going into the second leg that we were in it and it was all to play for and it certainly is.
"We've beaten them twice here they beat us once at home, so it's only half-time."
He concluded: "That's the first 90 done."